Reciprocated humility and grace: Holly Dawn responds to Jessica.
PART 2: Back to the Potter's Wheel »
There's very little that I enjoy more than trading essays with a thoughtful, intelligent writer who makes me think. Jessica Inman's response, "Truth in a Broken World, Part Two: Back to the Potter's Wheel," to my response ("Truth in a Broken World, Part One,") to her essay, "Human Clay" has been at the forefront of my mind for a couple of weeks now. As we say down here in the South, "Girl, you done good."
Jessica's first essay raised my emotional hackles. I perceived an attack on Brennan Manning where she meant only to caution. Brennan Manning holds a very special place in my heart, because The Ragamuffin Gospel gave me hope that God would love me no matter how badly I messed up. She was concerned that his emphasis on the believer's spiritual poverty might lead to an attitude that takes sin far too lightly, because, "after all, God loves me anyway."
From my perspective, that concern was absurd. The times I've been able to accept God's unconditional love for me — something I struggle with, even today — have been blessed times of grateful tears, long letters in prayer journals and grasped opportunities to serve the needs of others — in other words, the most Christ-like times in my life. What I could get away with was the farthest thing from my mind.
Jessica clarified in her response that she wasn't concerned that a sense of security in God's love would become a license to sin, but rather: "If we should ever get to the point of undermining the gravity of sin, I think we will have reached the 'too far' point."
Jessica is exactly right about this. The gravity of sin must never be undermined, and for someone who comes to Christ for salvation only — "fire insurance," in the parlance I learned as a kid — that may indeed be a danger.
The beauty I see in the doctrine of spiritual poverty is the glorious, magnificent, mind-boggling, life-altering idea that God's love for me transcends my sin. He demands repentance, but even when I shake my fist at the sky and harden my heart in rebellion, He loves me no less. No matter how badly I screw up, His love doesn't waver.
The central fact of my life and the basis of my security is that I am not powerful enough to make God stop loving me.
There are consequences, of course, to sin. The fact that losing His love is not one of them doesn't mean the other consequences aren't painful and difficult. I'm working through the emotional and spiritual consequences of past sin in my life even now. Just recently, I had a counseling session with my pastor. I needed guidance on how to live with the reality of some very serious mistakes. My pastor beautifully mirrored God's love for me — he urged me to repent straightaway and make a plan for not failing in that area again, offered encouragement that I had not separated myself from God's love, expressed optimism that I can someday use this painful lesson to help others, and let me know that he still loved and accepted me.
I went home and cried tears of relief, with my late Grandmother's wisdom ringing in my ears: "You may or may not be punished for the bad things you do, but you will always, in the end, be punished by the bad things you do."
Jessica's clarification of her thoughts made me turn to my earlier essay and examine it again. I talked a lot about the concept of God I got in my church-three-times-a-week-and-Christian-school childhood, and related that to the power of Brennan Manning's written works in my life. In retrospect, I was uncharitable in my assessment of my childhood religious training, and failed to accept the appropriate amount of responsibility. Yes, rules and outward appearances were overemphasized at times, and as a sensitive kid who desperately needed a sense of love and security, I was hurt by some of my experiences with Christianity while growing up. However, I had more (and more serious) problems, both internally and at home, than my teachers and pastors were aware of; and acting out of that pain, I was expecting and looking for rejection, for disapproval — for confirmation of how I already felt about myself. Thus, the lion's share of blame for my problems accepting God's love fall on me, because the crux was truly my reactions to events, not the events themselves.
I professed Christ as a small child, but it meant little more to me than the approval I gained from adults. Christianity was the culture I grew up in, not a relationship. When I was 21 and truly accepted Christ as my Savior, I did it for me, because I believed in Him and wanted to know and serve Him, not because saying the Sinner's Prayer would get me a hug and a smile from an adult, because I was afraid of hell, or because it was expected of me. When I came to Jesus and asked Him to save me four and a half years ago, it meant everything.
Learning that God loves me, even when I fail, and even when I don't feel His love, has changed my Christianity into what I believe it was meant to be all along — "a heartfelt relationship with Jesus," to quote (who else?) Brennan Manning. My relationship with Him must be founded on His love for me, my recognition of the horrific price He paid to put that love into action and give me a way to be reconciled to Him, my longing to obey and serve Him, and my own willingness to serve and meet the needs of others in obedience to Him and love for my fellows.
Deep acceptance of my spiritual poverty and brokenness allows me to focus on those things without the paralyzing terror I once knew — the fear that, as various human beings had, God found me unlovable.
Scrupulously avoiding sin pleases my Abba, prevents painful and difficult distractions, and is love put into action in its purest form — obedience. Jesus obeyed unto the cross, and I want to be like Him. Only when that's paramount will the "too far" point not be a problem.
Thanks, Jessica, for reminding me of that.
Copyright 2003 Holly Dawn Hunter. All rights reserved.